Blazers move up to third in NBA West
Russell Westbrook and Paul George brought what they had to the Moda Center on Saturday night.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum did the same.
Oh, yeah — Zach Collins, too.
"It was a fun game to be a part of," said the 7-foot rookie after the Trail Blazers' rollicking 108-100 triumph over Oklahoma City. "I don't know what a playoff atmosphere feels like, but I'm sure that's pretty close. Just how loud it was, how into it the crowd was, how both teams kept battling, how physical it was."
The teams entered the day in a virtual tie for fourth place in the madcap battle for positioning in the NBA Western Conference playoff race. When the dust had settled at Moda, with San Antonio's home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Blazers (37-26) owned sole possession of third place.
"It's nice, but it doesn't really do anything for us right now," said McCollum, low-keying the occasion as premature jubilation. "To be third 20 games from now would be great, but we have a long way to go."
Still, there was reason for merriment in the Portland locker room after the team's sixth straight victory overall and its 13th in the last 14 contests at home.
"We're really showing our growth," said Lillard, who managed to score 20 points despite the Thunder concentrating their defensive efforts on him. "We're continuing to stay locked in. Right now, we're playing good basketball. If shots aren't falling, we're not letting that dictate how we defend, how we communicate and our energy. We're controlling games with our consistency."
Lillard came into the game averaging 36.8 points over his previous seven games. OKC coach Billy Donovan's plan was to blitz every pick-and-roll involving Lillard, sending what amounted to a double-team his way.
"They made getting the ball out of Damian's hand a priority," Portland coach Terry Stotts said.
Lillard made only 5 of 18 shots from the field, including 2 of 8 from 3-point range. McCollum, though, got loose for 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting and also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists in a sterling 38-minute show.
"CJ is going to do what CJ does," Stotts said. He did it better than anybody else on the court Saturday night.
The Blazers had two big advantages over the Thunder (37-28), who were without starting small forward Carmelo Anthony and were playing the second of back-to-back games after a 124-116 victory at Phoenix on Friday. Westbrook took 31 shots to score 30 points — he made 12 — and collected 11 rebounds and six assists while George scored 21 points but went scoreless in the crucial fourth quarter.
"With great players, you want to make them work," Stotts said. "If you can get them to shoot a poor percentage, that's the goal. That's what happened tonight."
That's what happened to Lillard, too. But Portland got important contributions from several role players, including Evan Turner and Ed Davis. Turner, starting for the injured Moe Harkless, scored 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting — 3 for 4 from 3-point range — and was effective defensively against George. Davis contributed six points and 10 boards in 20 minutes off the bench.
Then there was Collins, who had the biggest game of his young career. The former Gonzaga standout scored a season-high 12 points, making 5 of 6 shots, including both 3-point attempts — both coming in the fourth quarter. He also had five rebounds, two blocked shots and a big save of a ball going out of bounds in the closing minute of the game as Stotts used him for all but 27 seconds of the final period.
"It was a good experience for him, but Zach earned it," Stotts said. "He was really good defensively. He took advantage of the shots that were there. He has continued to improve throughout the season. This is a culmination of a lot of work."
"For a rookie to be out there in big moments like that in such a huge game against players of that level, Zach was great," Lillard said. "It gives him confidence, but it gives his teammates even more confidence in what he's capable of. It's cool to see a young guy have that kind of moment."
Collins was just happy to ably fill his role off the bench.
"We have to win right now," he said. "I have to make sure I do my job with that second unit, that we don't let anything slip. We have to make sure we sustain the lead, or we push it. Tonight, it happened to be me scoring 12 points and getting blocks at the end. Whatever I have to do, I'm going to do it."
Since Christmas, the Blazers have been nearly invincible at home, losing only once in 14 tries.
"It's good to be able to give our fans something to be happy about," McCollum said. "With how close the West is, we can't afford to lose games at home. We've done a good job as of late."
NOTES — Portland's next action is at Staples Center on Monday night against the Lakers. ... The Blazers haven't won seven in a row since a nine-game streak in November 2014. ... Turner had his biggest offensive output since scoring 17 points against Dallas on Jan. 20. "I got some shots and I took them, that was it," he said. "I just tried to make the right play. We all stepped up and made it a group effort, as we've done the past few weeks." ... Stotts, on the indefatigable Davis: "I know how much Ed is appreciated by our team. I know what he gives on the court, what he gives us in the locker room. His presence is important. He gives us something that (Jusuf Nurkic) or Meyers (Leonard) don't. It's unique, and our team appreciates his mind-set defensively and his unselfishness." ... Nurkic had a frustrating game, getting into early foul trouble and finishing with nine points on 4-for-11 shooting with seven boards in 18 minutes. He ripped his jersey down the middle and tore it off his upper body as he passed Stotts in front of the Portland bench after drawing his third foul in the second quarter. Had Stotts ever had that happen? "I've seen it before," he said, "but not up close and personal."
It was the first time Donovan has rested Anthony all season. "I just felt like the timing was best for him," Donovan said. "We've had a lot of games on the road in a short period of time. Our travel has been a little bit crazy. I want to make sure our guys are in a good place physically. Carmelo is open-minded about doing what he can to help our team. This was a good opportunity to give him some rest." But why not rest Anthony a night earlier against a weaker opponent in Phoenix? "We wanted to get him in there (against the Suns)," Donovan said. "I thought that was the best thing to do. We have a couple of days off after tonight to give him a long break to get ready for Houston (on Tuesday)."